Genealogical Research is Fun!

Well… Ancestry.com has really helped the masses find family and research their ancestors. And now that AncestryDNA is available, more people are jumping on the bandwagon as it were. And, since its “DNA” it has to be true. Unfortunately, many of these people are missing one major aspect: verification.

As a technical writing instructor at our local community college, I try to teach people to think logically and question everything.  Somehow, I think this same skill set needs to be taught to new genealogists as well. All data should be verified!

tx-shannonisaac

One example is my 4th great-grandfather Isaac Shannon (I’ve mentioned him in a previous blog concerning his slave ownership). My AncestryDNA found a 4th-6th cousin of mine with Isaac Shannon also being this person’s 4th great-grandfather.  This is a cool feature in that I can sometimes find new or missing information from other peoples’ research which saves me a LOT of time.  Unfortunately, that is the problem with many people.  They save the time; but don’t check the facts.

Here’s the basic facts of Isaac’s life as reported by many people using Ancestry: He was born about 1799 in Kentucky. He likely married Jemimah Black in about 1821 in Texas. And then he died during or after 1863 in either Texas (major consensus) or Illinois.

So how true is any of that? 

Well, I believe the birth information is likely true.  He (or someone who knew him at his residence) reported to the census takers in the Federal Census of 1850 and the 1860 Federal Census that he was born in Kentucky.  Also the reported age was 51 and 61 years old respectively both of which point to his birth being in 1799.  And I do believe the census information I’ve found corresponds to the correct Isaac Shannon (there were a few that I’ve found so far).

This Isaac Shannon was living in the expected county and state and was married to a person with the expected first name.  Does this make the information absolutely true? Not necessarily – there could have been multiple Isaac Shannons each married to a woman named Jamimah all living in the same county in Arkansas!  But that’s not very likely. So the information is as accurate as we can make it since they didn’t have birth certificates back then and no known Bible exists with the information in it.

The marriage information is less guaranteed in my opinion. The information comes from a “… unique collection of records … extracted from a variety of sources including family group sheets and electronic databases.” This means that the source is from unverifiable information. Not only that, but Isaac was born in Kentucky, and Jemimah was born in one of the Carolinas about 1804.  Everything I have found has them living in Arkansas from at least 1821 (via tax records) to 1863.  It’s possible, but I don’t see them both travelling from their birth states to Texas – find each other – get married – and then move to Arkansas in the same year.  You gotta remember – any travelling would have been in horse drawn carts or the like. So, is the date accurate? Could be; but I’ve found no real proof.  Is the location accurate? Who knows – I sure don’t.

Finally, the death of Isaac has two different locations and years.  A prevailing number of Ancestry trees has him dying in Texas in 1865. Others have him dying in Illinois in 1863.  The first is interesting in that the sources used to show that he died in 1865 in Texas are other peoples’ Ancestry trees – which is to say – there is no proof.

The second death date was actually fun to disprove.  If you search Ancestry for “Isaac Shannon” you will find all sorts of information.  And, if you go to Fold3.com (a military records resource) and do the same search you will find even more information.  I’ve found a minimum of three that were living during the Civil War era: a 60 year old man living in Arkansas, an 18 year old man in Texas, and a dead Union soldier with orphaned children in Indiana (who is clearly not my ancestor).

First off… there IS an Isaac Shannon that died of unknown causes as a prisoner of war at Camp Butler, Illinois in February 23, 1863 after being captured a month earlier.  However, if someone were to ask questions – one of them might be “Why did an Arkansan join the Confederate Army in Texas?” Another question might be “Why is a 62 year old joining the Texas Cavalry?”

So I did a little more digging at Fold3.com (which is a subscription service).  If we look at the 25th Texas Cavalry Isaac Shannon, we find out he was 18 years old when he joined (see the picture above)! He actually joined an infantry regiment that was later transformed into the cavalry regiment. This is obviously not my 60 year old Arkansan 4th great-grandfather.

A little more research shows that my Isaac Shannon signed a Bond of Obedience in Washington County, Arkansas on 5 February 1863 which states that he is, has been, and will be obedient to the United States government.

So… did MY Isaac Shannon die in a prisoner of war camp in Illinois? I’m pretty sure the answer is “No.”  However, one word of mouth story has reached me that he and his family did move to Texas for the duration of the war.  If that is the case, then it must have happened after he signed the Bond of Obedience in Arkansas.

So when and where did he die?  Well, the 1870 Federal Census has a J. Shannon (Jemimah?) living with a W. H. and Sarah Shannon (which just so happens to match William Henry – Isaac’s and Jemimah’s son’s initials) back living in Arkansas. There is no sign of Isaac Shannon in this census.  So maybe the word of mouth fact of them moving to Texas to wait out the rest of the Civil War and the unproven statements that he died in Texas about 1865 are true?  I honestly don’t know – but it’s a place to start searching for old newspapers, tombstones, and the like.

And that is what genealogical research is about…

 

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Fischers and Horneys Come to America

A lot of times the sources used while researching the family history are confusing and/or have a lot of errors. Or it could be that I’m just ignorant of what was going on at the time and the source information is accurate, but it just doesn’t make sense without some crucial bit of knowledge. Sometimes you have to delve into the history of the times just to figure out what is going on with your ancestors.

One good example of this is the birthplaces of my Fischer and Horney ancestors (on my dad’s dad’s side of the family).  One great great great grandfather, Eustache Fischer, came to America around 1889 while my other 3rd great grandfather, Nicolas Horney, came in 1860. Both of their families ended up in Goliad County, Texas. The families MAY have known each other before they came to America because Nicolas was married to a Fischer in 1849; but this is conjecture at this point.

The interesting thing to note about many of these men’s children is that the place where they report their birth country changes over the various census dates. And this is confusing if you’re trying to keep accurate information.

Every 10 years the US government holds a census where it keeps track of the country’s population with a few questions asked of every person in the country at the time.  Two questions consistently asked is when and where you are born.

Selestine Horney (Eustache’s son) eventually married Isabelle Fischer (Nicolas’ daughter) about 1890 in Goliad County, Texas.  But let’s figure out where they were born (the information here was taken from the various censuses):

Census Selestine Isabelle
1870 France Moved to USA in late 1880s.
1880 France
1900 Germany Germany
1910 Germany France
1920 France France
1930 Died in 1929. France
1940 France

The records for the 1890 were destroyed in a fire; so there is no information for that census.

Now you’d think people would know where they were born; so why is this so confusing?  It also gets a little weird when you look at other aspects of the questions asked and answered in some of the censuses.

The 1920 census asks where each person was born and what their mother (original) language was spoken at home. The response for Isabelle and Selestine (his name is misspelled in the census): Born in France, Speak German!! Now what the heck are we supposed to make out of that?

Eventually I came across a form for Isabelle called the “Alsace-Lorraine, France Citizenship Declarations (Optants), 1872”.  I had to do some reading on Ancestry.com to figure out what this was about; but, before we get into that, we need a little bit of history.

This Alsace-Lorraine region had been under frequent contention between Germany and France.  As an article at Wikipedia.com states, France wanted the Alsace-Lorraine area because it was geographically a part of France. Germany, on the other hand, said it should be part of that country since most of the inhabitants spoke German!   Ahhh – so that’s where the French birth location with German as the mother tongue came from for Isabelle and Selestine.

It turns out that, following the Franco-Prussian War (Jul 1870 – May 1871), the Alsace-Lorraine region of land was transferred from France to Germany.  And it was part of Germany until the end of the First World War when it was ceded back to France in 1918. So, from 1870 and before and 1920 and later this was France while during the 1880-1910 census this area was German.

This whole thing must have been confusing to the census takers who likely weren’t well versed in the history of the area; and, to make matters worse, they were getting answers from German speakers that said they were from France.

Now, back to the Citizenship Declarations (Optants) form.  If people were in the area after “ownership” of the Alsace-Lorraine region was transferred from France to Germany, they had to change their citizenship from French to German. They could declare that they would maintain their French citizenship which would then be published in bulletins. If they chose to remain French, they had to immigrate to France (many of them immigrated to American instead).

So, two siblings could have been born in the same house – yet be from two different countries. In 1870 they would have been born in France; in 1872 they would have been born in Germany.

After all of that you might be thinking – wow – good thing that doesn’t happen in the good ole US of A.  Wrong!  It does.  In the early days, state borders and county borders changed!  This is not as drastic; but if you’re doing research and know that your ancestor was born in one county – but you go look him up at the county courthouse – you might not find him.